Love by Hanne Ørstavik

Hanne Ørstavik's new novella is a nuanced portrait of queasy love

Book Review by Katie Goh | 06 Nov 2019
  • Love - Hanne Ørstavik
Book title: Love
Author: Hanne Ørstavik, translated by Martin Aitken

Told over the duration of an icy night, Love is a novella set in rural Norway. New to town, single mother Vibeke and her eight-year-old son Jon are the book’s protagonists. In the evening, Vibeke leaves Jon at home hoping to have a run in with the library’s engineer, and while she’s gone her son slips out and has his own adventure at the visiting carnival. Tomorrow, we learn, will be his ninth birthday, but his mother has forgotten.

Love is a simple story told in a startling fashion. The narrative moves from Vibeke’s perspective to her son’s in alternating paragraphs, so rapidly that sometimes you’ve just realised that the narrative has moved on before pivoting back to the other. On the page, Vibeke and Jon’s subjectives may be intertwined, but a cold distance between mother and son soon becomes apparent. While Jon can’t stop thinking about his mother, he becomes a ghost in his mother's consciousness. 

The titular love in Hanne Ørstavik's novella is one of near misses. As Vibeke and Jon come close to one another, they repel each other like magnets unable to foster intimacy. Ørstavik’s writing is shrapnel sharp as she carves out a nuanced portrait of queasy love told through slithers that is eerie in its estrangement and quietly devastating in its loneliness.

And Other Stories, 7 Nov, £10